Monday, February 20, 2012

Class, Sit Down Please. SIT DOWN!!!!! Thank You. Your New Words For Today Are Guide & Tool, Which Together Make "Guide Tool."

While animal rights advocates staged a protest Wednesday against a circus at Philips Arena, Fulton County commissioners voiced displeasure with Atlanta's refusal to go along with the county's ban on a controversial elephant training tool.

The issue started as a spat between Fulton and Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus over the use of bullhooks by elephant handlers. It quickly evolved into a territorial dispute, with county officials miffed the city would not support their ban on bullhooks inside city limits.

The circus opened Wednesday night after winning a ruling two days earlier from a Fulton County judge, who handed down an injunction barring enforcement of the county ordinance in Atlanta.

During a county commission meeting earlier Wednesday, several commissioners, furious that Atlanta took the circus’ side, suggested the county stop providing animal control services in the city. That includes picking up dead, stray or dangerous animals.

If the county let all of its impounded dogs out onto Peachtree Street, Commissioner Bill Edwards said, that might get the city’s attention.

“Who let the dogs out?” Edwards said. “If I don’t have a signed agreement, then I don’t have to deliver any service.”

County officials are considering citing circus workers for cruelty to animals if there is evidence of abuse, animal control official Tony Phillips said Wednesday. A spokesman for the city declined comment.

Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals brought its own elephant to the sidewalk outside Philips Arena hours before the first show: a large inflatable pachyderm wearing a sign that read, "Step Right Up! See shackles, bullhooks, and loneliness at the circus."

"Here, the judge clearly buckled under pressure from Ringling Brothers," said Matt Bruce of PETA, referring to the injunction won by the circus. "We're calling on the city and county to enforce the ban that's already on the books."

About 20 people lined up in front of the arena's ticket booth, holding signs depicting pictures of elephants being prodded with bullhooks and being restrained with ropes. Some even called out to a group of about 50 schoolchildren who were passing by, saying, "I hope you're not going to the circus."

Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Brothers, said the circus has a long record of caring for animals despite PETA's claims about the bullhooks.

"That's incendiary rhetoric. ... They're trying to inflame the situation and upset people," said Stephen Payne, spokesman for Ringling Brothers. "PETA doesn’t have any real knowledge of what it takes to care for an elephant."

Fulton was the first Georgia jurisdiction to approve a bullhook ban, following cities and counties in Florida, South Carolina, New York, Kentucky and Indiana. County commissioners voted for the ban in June.

The ban was supposed to apply only to unincorporated south Fulton, the only area commissioners have direct governance over. County officials said then that if Atlanta wanted to forbid the use of bullhooks, the City Council would have to adopt its own ordinance.

However, Fulton commissioners changed their tune after discovering city codes that say any adjustment to the county’s animal ordinance applies in the city. Fulton handles animal control countywide, with cities paying for the service; Atlanta paid the county $1.2 million last year.

Atlanta’s attorneys have said the city has no formal contract with Fulton on animal control, and therefore the county's bullhook ban doesn't apply within city limits.

Feld Entertainment went to court Monday seeking relief from the local ban because of concerns circus performers wouldn't be able to use bullhooks during their shows, which will run from Wednesday through Feb. 20.

"They cannot have the Circus without the elephants, and they cannot have elephants without using these guide tools," Feld attorney Charles Sanders said in an email to the city Monday. "This will be a huge revenue loss for the City and for the Circus, and the Circus will be unable to return to the City."

Atlanta City Councilman Lamar Willis echoed those concerns Wednesday when told of Edwards' suggestion to stop providing animal control in the city.

“I think that’s absolutely insane,” Willis said. “We serve many of the same people, and I think sometimes we forget that. They didn’t elect us to be dictators over anything.”

Courtesy of John Goodall

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